Thursday, October 10, 2013

Re-imagining God

a desert storm at sunset

Like many traditional religious institutions these days, the Episcopal Church has embarked on a campaign to help revitalize the faith for the 21st century. The question being asked is, "How can we "re-imagine the church?" A key component of the campaign seems to be an effort at attracting a younger generation of 20-30 year-olds who are less and less likely to affiliate with any religious institution of any kind. 

I've been reflecting on the re-imagning question for some time now, and it seems to me that you can't re-imagine the church or the synagogue or temple or any established religion unless you first re-imagine "God." 

While it may seem obvious that "God" is at the heart of any religion, what is much less obvious is what people mean when they use the word "God." 

I am intrigued by the fact that so many younger people (Millennials) have either rejected the religious institution or have never affiliated. So, I have been doing a very non-scientific but fairly systematic study of what younger people are saying about "God".

In my research I do not conduct "focus groups" or send out surveys. Every day I simply follow Twitter feeds, read blogs, and see what folks are saying in numerous Google+ discussions. I find very little chat about "church;" however, there is an enormous amount of "God" conversations in the world of social media, most of it coming from younger people in their 20's and 30's - many of whom now classify themselves as "atheists".

Every day, in my social media observations, I see a common theme running throughout all the God-talk, and it goes something like this: You are either an "atheist" or you are a "theist." If you are an "theist," you believe in a Divine Being - a super human power, who controls and rules over the world and the events in the world - rewarding good people and punishing the bad, causing earthquakes, devastation, disease (like AIDS). The so-called "atheists" see "theists" as delusional and simple-minded. Atheists say they have turned to the much more rational explanations of science to explain the world and have no need for a magical divine being who makes it all and controls it all.

Every day I read some form of this "atheist-theist" argument. For me, it's an argument based on a faulty premise. I am not an "atheist" and I am also very much NOT a "theist." I totally reject the idea of "God" as  a divine being (a super human power up there, out there controlling the world).

When I use the word "God," I imagine an untamable, uncontrollable, wild, passionate energy of love pulsing in and through every atom of the cosmos. "God" cannot be named or explained or contained in words and human concepts. "God" is not a "being" at all; rather God IS being - the ground of being, the source of being.

My images of God are fire and roaring wind, bright morning sun, and mystical sunsets piercing through the clouds of a desert storm, lovers kissing in the moonlight, a mother singing her child to sleep at night-  an abiding Holy Presence experienced in all the wonderful poetry life has to offer (all very Biblical images by the way). 

No I don't think it's at all possible to re-imagine the church (or any religious institution) unless we first re-imagine "God". 

After all, why would anyone (of any age) want to be part of a church who thinks of God as an aloof,  sterile, vindictive judge, a divine being (man upstairs), the maker of heaven and earth, almighty king?  

I sure don't want to belong to that kind of church.

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  1. This is really beautiful, and it's a new take on what is "spiritual." I always love when people say, "I'm not religious, I'm 'spiritual'." When they say that, this is always what I imagine they mean. Thank you for sharing this beautiful view!

  2. Meredith, I deeply appreciate your comment.

  3. It's a lovely idea, and I actually believe your take on God is the only way many Christians are actually able to remain "Christian". That's the way it was for me. Until I was confronted with issues that made me reject a supernatural explanation of the world. If you examine some of the details in the Bible, you can easily reject the religion as many millenials have. It is a confusing mix of compelling morals and appalling social injustice (especially old testament). And by the way, when you replace the word "science" for god in your own appeal, you still have the same soul-expanding, euphoric experiences and appreciation of the world. It requires no belief, and no god. Just wonder, awe, and the astounding reality of the universe and our shared human experience. Atheists actually join you in your profound appreciation of life. :-)